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Participants on the first episode of CTV's Farming For Love, which debuts May 28.CTV

There are no hotties in hot tubs on Farming for Love. When the CTV original series premieres May 28, it plans to show English-language Canada what it looks like when reality contestants go on a dating series for the right reasons – not just for 15 minutes of fame.

Farming for Love is based on Fremantle’s international format Farmer Wants a Wife. The title was recently revived in the United States on Fox (after a single season on the CW back in 2008), and has been a hit in French-Canada as Noovo’s L’Amour est Dans le Pré for a dozen seasons. Internationally, there are more than 25 other editions in countries ranging from Australia to Estonia.

That a dating series format translates internationally isn’t surprising (there are nearly 40 global iterations of The Bachelor). What sets this one apart is that it works. To date, the show has resulted in 197 weddings and 480 children. As Farming for Love host Sabrina Jalees puts it, “That’s billions of diapers.”

Still, commissioning an unscripted series of this nature was the biggest risk Justin Stockman, Bell Media’s vice-president of content development and programming, has taken since he came to the role in 2021.

“There aren’t many success stories of dating series,” he says of Canadian viewership. “There have been a couple of Bachelor attempts with one of our competitors, but otherwise it’s just not a place we’ve gone in English-Canada programming.”

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A scene from the first episode of Farming for Love.darko sikman/CTV

Stockman wasn’t sure Canadians would be interested in watching farmers, and questioned why no one had yet attempted the series. But the more he and his team mulled it over, the more they saw an opportunity to highlight the diversity of Canadian farming in a way that resonated with pandemic-weary viewers who spent recent years re-evaluating their life decisions. If ever there was a time to ask city-dwellers to give up their lives and take a chance on love, it was now.

It turned out that greenlighting the series in 2022 – and retitling it to reflect more diverse participants – was the easy part. Then came the stressful job of casting and getting the cameras rolling in British Columbia in time to capture farming season.

Lark Productions (the same company behind Canadian iterations of The Real Housewives) had province-wide scouts scoping out markets, wineries and band offices to find five farmers to anchor the series. Producers also sent e-mails to more than 300 agricultural associations and farming groups, and CTV did a major push through ads and social media.

In the end they settled on three men and two women to headline Season 1, representing an array of farms: wine, equestrian, livestock and grain, berry and agritourism, and dairy. (In one case, it helped that one of the farmers had a friend who participated in the South African adaptation and found love.) It was such an intense process that casting calls for a potential second season have already gone out, as Bell Media will need to decide on the show’s future over the next few weeks to align with the upcoming farming schedule.

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Two participants on Farming For Love.CTV

From there, Lark and Bell Media introduced the farmers to the masses, soliciting Canadians who wanted to date a particular one to apply to be a suitor (sort of like a high-profile Tinder push). Hundreds of applications came in. Winnowing the list down was a massive undertaking for the casting team, who relied on intuition for the most part, but in some cases consulted professional matchmakers for advice.

“Our No. 1 filter was whether this is someone who wants to be on a show or someone who believes this show can give them the life they’re looking for and truly sees the potential,” Lark president Erin Haskett says. “It was a process of elimination and that was the first red flag for most of us.”

“People are willing to give up their lives,” Stockman says of the participants. “The format drives that forward with farm chores, and the daters realize they’re not just auditioning for a date with someone or to see if there’s chemistry. They’re going to become a farmer. And they’re probably going to have children at some point. It’s a big commitment. You see the people that are willing to go there and they’re not messing around.”

In the premiere, viewers meet the five farmers, Charley, Ashleigh, Dave, Gurleen and Doug, along with the men and women hoping for a chance to date them. It kicks off in a Bachelor-inspired way with speed dates, first impressions and an elimination ceremony of sorts, as each farmer selects a handful of daters to bring back to their farm. In subsequent episodes the drama unfolds as the cameras fade into the background and reality sets in.

With so many raw and nervous personalities who weren’t exactly camera-ready, having a host who could put participants at ease was essential. Haskett was sold on Jalees during an initial conversation when the stand-up shared a video from her wedding to fashion designer Shauna McCann.

“This is someone who believed in connection and relationship and the value of that,” Haskett says. “That was key. Someone who understood and believed in real love, and what it takes to have a real partnership.”

Jalees wasn’t into the idea initially, but once she realized the show is less Love Is Blind and more of a documentary-style journey about living in the moment, with her acting as “true-love Sherpa,” she was all in.

“In a lot of dating shows, the casting is about finding sensational people that are willing to hook up and kind of create a dramatic sizzle reel,” she says. “Whereas this show really went about things in a way I imagine my [extended family] would. My dad’s Pakistani, and a lot of my aunts and uncles were married through arranged marriage. This show is basically like finding family for your family.”

Farming for Love debuts May 28 at 7 p.m. ET on CTV,, and the CTV app.

Special to The Globe and Mail